There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
ARLINGTON, Va. (NASA PR) — DARPA has narrowed the potential launch locations for the DARPA Launch Challenge to eight, with options for both vertical and horizontal launch. The challenge will culminate in late 2019 with two separate launches to low Earth orbit within weeks of each other from two different sites. Competitors will receive information about the final launch sites, payloads, and targeted orbit in the weeks prior to each launch.
KODIAK, AK (Alaska Aerospace PR) — Alaska Aerospace is hosting an Open House at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm to celebrate twenty years of launch activities. The public is invited to visit the site, where Alaska Aerospace staff will be providing tours of the spaceport facilities.
“In commemoration of twenty years of launch activity from our spaceport in Kodiak, we are excited about this opportunity to showcase our facilities to the public,” said Craig Campbell, Alaska Aerospace President and Chief Executive Officer. “With our expanded business plan of providing launch services to the new small launch vehicle market, we want people to see the changes we have made at the site and learn about our future plans to provide greater economic benefit to the community,” Campbell stated.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — 10 July 2018 (Rocket Lab PR) — US orbital launch provider Rocket Lab has today confirmed plans to expand its launch capability by developing a US launch site, with four US space ports shortlisted to launch the Electron rocket.
Final selection is underway with Cape Canaveral, Wallops Flight Facility, Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base. A decision on the confirmed site, to be named Launch Complex 2, is expected to be made in August 2018.
Anchorage, AK — July 6, 2018 (Alaska Aerospace Corporation PR) — Alaska Aerospace today launched Aurora Launch Services as a wholly-owned subsidiary to offer low cost launch services to both commercial and government customers worldwide. Based in Anchorage, Alaska, Aurora Launch Services will be the exclusive provider for launch services at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska, located in Kodiak.
“This is an exciting time for Alaska Aerospace as we expand our service capabilities and provide new employment opportunities for Alaskans, in Alaska.” claimed Craig Campbell, Alaska Aerospace President and CEO. “I am proud to announce that Mr. John Cramer has been selected as the first Aurora Launch Services President and he will be building a dynamic team over the next few months designed to provide the lowest cost launch services available in the country from a fully licensed spaceport.” he stated.
“Providing streamlined, efficient launch services, based on customer defined requirements will enable Aurora Launch Services to tailor our team specifically to each customer’s unique needs.” said John Cramer. “I look forward to this new horizon of aerospace development in Alaska.” he concluded.
Alaska Aerospace is a state-owned corporation established to develop a high-technology aerospace industry in Alaska. Alaska Aerospace operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) located on Kodiak Island offering all indoor, all weather, processing and providing optimal support for both orbital and sub-orbital space launches. Its corporate headquarters is in Anchorage, Alaska with a regional office in Huntsville, Alabama.
Officials at the Pacific Spaceport Complex did not give a cause for why an April 6 was scrubbed earlier this month, but confirmed the decision was not related to the spaceport facilities, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Friday.
The new launch is scheduled for May 10 or May 11, said Mike Morton, a director of the Alaska Aerospace Corp….
The documents filed last month for the previous planned launch indicated that Astra was authorized to send up a suborbital vehicle to carry “an inert upper stage on a suborbital trajectory without a payload.”
ANCHORAGE, AK (Alaska Aerospace Corporation PR) — Alaska Aerospace today clarified details pertaining to commercial launch activities and development plans at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA), located on Kodiak Island, following misinformation across social media channels.
Alaska Aerospace is responsible for any and all infrastructure development at PSCA, limiting air travel near PSCA, impact to public lands near PSCA and notifying the community of these plans. While Vector Launch Inc. will be conducting an orbital launch at PSCA later this year, Alaska Aerospace does not currently have a contract with Vector or any other commercial launch vendor for construction of a new launch pad at PSCA. Over the last two years, Alaska Aerospace has worked with Vector to explore the establishment of commercial launch operations at existing launch pads at PSCA.
Astra Space is set for the first flight of its new small-satellite launcher on Thursday from Alaska.
The FAA has granted a launch license to the California company for a suborbital flight of Rocket 1 from Launch Pad 2 at the Pacific spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island.
A notice to airmen (NOTAM) about the launch has been posted for April 5 at 2000 UTC and ending on April 6 at 0200 UTC (12 to 6 p.m. AKDT /4 to 10 p.m. EDT).
Details are sparse about the company and booster. However, it is believed that the two-stage rocket will be capable of placing a payload weighing up to 100 kg into orbit.
The Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the Kodiak spaceport, has billed the flight as the first of what it hopes will be many commercial launches from the underused facility.
Formerly known as Ventions LLC, Astra Space is operating under a $2 million contract with NASA to develop and flight test a high performance electric pump-fed launch vehicle. The 18-month contract runs through mid-December.
Founded in 2004, the company has been awarded 29 contracts worth nearly $21 million over the past 11 years from NASA, U.S. Air Force, DARPA, Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Army.
At some point in the next few weeks, the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska will host its first commercial rocket launch. Officials at the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the spaceport, are hoping the suborbital test flight is the first of many commercial flights from the underused facility.
While officials have not identified the California company conducting the launch, a perusal of the corporation’s board minutes indicate it is almost certainly a small Bay Area startup named Astra Space.
Already experiencing a surge in launches, Florida’s Space Coast could become even busier with the additional of polar orbit launches.
The Air Force has opened a “polar corridor” that would allow certain rockets to launch spacecraft from Cape Canaveral into north-south orbits circling the poles, a development that could bring more launches to Florida.
Polar launches historically have been flown from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s Central Coast, where a small number of missions each year fly south over the Pacific Ocean toward Antarctica.
Cape launches most often head east to send satellites on their way around the equator. Polar trajectories have been avoided since a 1960 Navy launch inadvertently dropped a Thor rocket stage on Cuba, reportedly killing a cow.
But now, says Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, “We can shoot south.”
No near-term missions plan to use the new polar corridor, but over time it could lead to more Cape launches and consolidation of the nation’s launch infrastructure.
This change would not be very good news to Vandenberg or the Pacific Space Complex — Alaska, which both host polar orbit launches.
America’s Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California are struggling to keep up with increasing demand from the nation’s booming commercial launch industry while dealing with budget uncertainties in Washington, U.S. Air Force officials said last week.
The Eastern Range has been dealing with a surge of flights this year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX has increased its launch cadence. Elon Musk’s company and rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) has launched 18 times from Florida thus far, with two more SpaceX flights on the schedule for later this month.
The nuclear missile threat posed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has proven to be a lifeline to the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and its little used Kodiak launch facilities.
Twice during the past month, the U.S. Army launched Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile interceptors from the The Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak. The tests were done under an $80.4 million contract with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.
The contract helped revive the struggling agency, which suffered serious damage to its launch facilities in 2014 after a U.S. Army rocket exploded shortly after takeoff. The state-run corporation is eyeing the booming small-satellite market.
One commercial contract that is signed and scheduled for December is with a new space company that cannot now be identified, Campbell said.
Vector Space Systems, an Arizona-based company formerly known as Garvey Spacecraft, has also signed with Alaska Aerospace for test flights of its new Nanosat Launch Vehicle, the Vector-R, in 2018.
A contract that still in negotiation for launches planned in 2018 and 2019, is with Rocket Lab USA, a California-based company that has been in the space business for several years.
Rocket Lab now wants to use Kodiak for launches of its new “Electron” rocket, Campbell said.
Another company in discussions for launches in 2019 is Zero Point Frontiers, based in Alabama, for its 55-foot Xbow Launch Vehicle that will launch small satellites to orbit.